Working from Home
This holiday season, I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas, but of a new world of work. I’ve been sick for the last few days with an upper respiratory infection. Even so, I’ve continued with my work, doing what I consider the minimum to keep my business going. As a full-time writer who works from home, I feel fortunate to not have to call in sick, to be able to write when I want to write and rest when I need to rest. And working from the couch this week has made me think about how our fast-changing world is expanding employment options for everyone, including adults on the spectrum. Specifically, Kerry Magro’s recent column, “Multiple Disability Workplace,” has me thinking: What if the best workplace option for many individuals—myself included—is home?
It’s an interesting topic to ponder, especially during a time when community integration is so highly valued. And while I completely agree that adults on the spectrum need to be an active part of their communities, I can also appreciate how for some individuals, that participation might not extend to employment. Introverts and highly sensitive individuals in particular need environments with less stimulation and stress. And having a job is inherently stressful; there’s the pressure to perform, to meet deadlines, to do one’s best work and please an employer or customers. I can imagine that the stress of work in addition to the challenge of social interaction might prove very difficult for introverts on the spectrum. Perhaps, for this group, it might be better to have social activities and connections in the community, and work from home instead.
Case in point: My husband and I recently heard the 2007 “Special Ed” edition of NPR’s “This American Life.” The show featured a developmentally disabled man named Vincent, who, for reasons unknown to his family, suddenly quit his job and myriad social activities too. He withdrew into himself, and his family worried about a possible depression. This may well have been the case, but Vincent’s rebellion also seemed like that of a person trying to take control of his own life. (And, perhaps, that of an introvert who needed more space to himself.) With the help of his family, Vincent was able to begin again. He didn’t return to his previous warehouse-type job, though; instead, he chose to work from home and raise chickens in his backyard. His sister says of his new employment: “Vinnie took to every aspect of chicken farming … But more than that, to everyone’s surprise, he started participating in activities again.” Perhaps Vincent needed the solitary work with chickens in order to re-engage with his community.
As an introvert who lived and worked in a home with 14 other people with and without intellectual disabilities for two years, I can appreciate how hard it can be to work in a people-intensive environment. No matter how wonderful the workplace, being surrounded by other people full-time isn’t right for everyone. Though I loved my time as a direct-care assistant, I had to be very deliberate and proactive about carving out space for solitude. As someone who recharges by spending time alone, I found myself retreating more and more often to my room. Much as I loved the people around me, I knew I needed space for myself. Moving to an apartment was a positive change; after doing so, I was able to rejoin my community in a new role as Program Director with newfound enthusiasm.
Working from home does have its own set of challenges; it requires discipline, adherence to routine, and tolerance for solitude. (And sometimes, people need a little push to get out and connect with others.) Additionally, finding satisfying work to do from home—be it writing or drawing or caring for animals—isn’t enough; there has to be a market for that skill. And that, perhaps, is where adults on the spectrum—like most entrepreneurs—need the most support. We need people who can connect the skill sets of individuals on the spectrum with the businesses that would benefit from them. Now that would be a job worth doing.